Rundown and corroded industrial assets can have a detrimental effect on the bottom line. But for most companies that rely on smooth flowing pipes and watertight tanks, such as in the oil and gas, rail, and mining sectors, knowing when industrial assets will become a liability is a challenge.
Fortune 500 company PPG Industries, founded in 1883 as the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., is turning to data collection and analytics to help its customers in a range of industries predict exactly when they’ll need to apply new coatings to prevent corrosion. The supplier of paints, coatings, and specialty materials has developed Asset Integrity Management (AIM), a digitally-enabled service that forecasts the future condition of PPG’s protective coatings and notifies customers as to which assets they need to repaint and when — before corrosion occurs.
“Through AIM we help customers plan, budget, and optimize their facility maintenance needs for coatings application,” says Jeff Lipniskis, global director of IT at PPG.
At the heart of the service, which earned PPG a FutureEdge 50 Award for cutting-edge use of emerging technologies, is a data-driven model built on proprietary algorithms developed from NACE 509 and ISO 12944 standards for expected service life. The model helps customers predict how their assets will age, calculate likely outcomes, and compare multiple scenarios. It includes a budget manager that gives maintenance managers the ability to plan for the next 10 to 20 years of maintenance.
To support the service, PPG coatings inspectors travel to customer facilities to inspect the paint and coatings on assets such as tanks and pipes. They take photographs and document data about the assets based on standard engineering protocols. “Once the data is collected it’s uploaded to the cloud and then the analytics occur on that data,” Lipniskis says, adding that the cloud-based solution then enables customers “to review and complete ‘what-if’ analysis and other activities as part of their maintenance planning process.”
Customers showed immediate interest in the service when it launched in 2019, Lipniskis says.
An ‘outside-in’ approach
This focus on responding to customer needs was instrumental to garnering executive support from the outset, Lipniskis says: “Internal selling becomes a lot easier when you put the customer first.”
He considers this a key lesson broadly applicable to IT projects.
“Work from the outside-in and be certain you are solving a customer problem or friction point,” he says. “This enables the team to have a clear direction and orients everyone toward mutual value creation for your customer and company.”
Lipniskis and his team relied on PPG’s sales, business development, and technical services teams, working closely with customers, to identify requirements for the project. The teams defined the business need, and PPG’s agile product team translated those needs into the AIM digital solution requirements. The build for the first release of the cloud product took six months, and the build for the inspection platform took three months for the first minimum viable product (MVP) release.
“We avoided major surprises by executing this as an independent agile product team with a clear owner. Had we not done this, it is clear the build process would have been much more challenging,” Lipniskis says.
The power of teamwork
Lipniskis notes that one of the biggest challenges of the project was managing a co-located product team with members in both Poland and the U.S. The key to overcoming that challenge was bringing the team together, physically, in one location at the beginning of the project.
“We reaped tremendous benefit from the three core team members in Poland coming to the U.S., spending a couple weeks here, living with the product owner, meeting and going out socially. You know, establishing a personal relationship and really have a personal tie. And then you go and work remote as a team and it is just so much quicker,” Lipniskis says.
AIM was the first project of this scale that Lipniskis’s team undertook with a co-located product team and an agile product development mindset, but he says it won’t be the last. AIM has proven PPG’s ability to do quality work at a rapid pace, he says, and the teams are in the process of duplicating that experience on several other projects.
“We’re already reaping the internal benefits of what we learned with AIM and applying it to other products that we’ll bring to the market,” he says.